One of the highlights of Anna Engquist’s career occurred on May 2, 1977, when she was presented with a silver medal authorized by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Swedish consul general in the Twin Cities, Per Olof Forshell, presented the medal to Engquist.
Photos courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society
It is fortunate for a community to have a person that is dedicated to that community – to the history, the people and for the good of the neighborhood. For Scandia, Anna Engquist was that person.
She was born on May 2, 1905, daughter of John and Emily Monson, in May Township. Anna attended the nearby rural one-room schoolhouse. At 17, she went door to door selling subscriptions to a local weekly newspaper. Winning a contest of selling the most subscriptions she was awarded a piano – which she had for the remainder of her life.
In 1925, Anna married Rodney Engquist. The couple remained in the area, where Anna worked for families and also at the Scandia Mercantile. In 1952, Rodney took a job at an oil company that moved the family from the Midwest to Saudi Arabia. While in the Middle East, Anna got the time to do family research on trips to Sweden, which fueled her interest in history.
Upon her return to the Scandia area in 1960, the Engquists saved enough money to purchase the Scandia Mercantile where Anna had worked so many years before. Working day and night, the couple – along with their kids – made the business a success. They continued to own the mercantile for 10 years, after which they decided to sell and retire.
Retirement was short for Rodney, who died just two weeks later. Seeing that the rural schools of Washington County were abandoned because of the reorganization of school districts, and wanting to preserve the history of the one-room schoolhouse, Anna then dove into her passion for history and community. She focused on the abandoned Hay Lake School in Scandia and moved forward with creating a museum.
Another project that mirrored that of creating the museum was writing a history of the local area. In 1974, the Washington County Historical Society published her book “Scandia: Then and Now,” which is the name of the local Scandia Facebook page today. Since that time it has been reprinted and expanded five times.
Anna had a way with getting people involved.
“She sincerely believed in helping others. She had a way with words and she got people going to volunteer,” said her grandson Alan Cashin. She loved working with children especially at the school museum doing old lessons, playing vintage games and playing the historic organ on the stage of the school.
She also helped to save the old Washington County Courthouse and helped Elim Lutheran Church with the development of Gammelgarden. She directed the preservation of the Johannes Erickson Log House and had it moved near the Hay Lake School building.
In 1975, in recognition of her community dedication, she was presented with the WCCO “Good Neighbor Award.” The following year, she served as volunteer bicentennial chairman of the Washington County Historical Society. She also served as president of the board for the historical society.
One of the highlights of her career occurred on May, 2, 1977, when, at the historical society annual meeting, she was presented with a silver medal authorized by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. The medal was the king’s recognition of service by Americans to Swedish heritage and the furthering of friendly relations between the United States and Sweden. Swedish consul general in the Twin Cities, Per Olof Forshell, presented the medal to Engquist.
“In accepting this honor,” she said, “I feel that all members of the Washington County Historical Society, other friends and relatives are also being honored on this special occasion, for without your help and cooperation, the many achievements leading to this honor would not have been accomplished.” She finished by asking Forshell to thank the king of Sweden for the honor.
Engquist would eventually hand over the keys to the Hay Lake School Museum to Hazel Gronquist. Anna would continue to speak on local history and its Swedish roots. She developed cancer and died on Aug. 19, 1989, at the age of 84. She is buried in Elim Cemetery in Scandia.
As it said in her funeral program, “She forever remained herself, a person of humble origins whose pride was in those origins, in the soil and spirit of Scandia.”
Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.
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